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Saturday, October 23, 2010

APPLACHIAN CUSHAW -- A TRADITIONAL FOOD AND DECORATION

CUSHAWS WITH A  HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN 
Call it a Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash, Cushaw Green Striped pumpkin, or Green Striped Cushaw, they are all the same squash from the Curcurbitaceae family  that have deep roots going all the way back to 7000 to 3000 B.C. They are believed to have originated in Central America and then eventually made their way north to the U. S. by mid-nineteenth century. 


Today they can be found, usually, at local stores or farmers markets in Appalachia. Commercial farms that distribute to chains generally do not grow them so forget trying to find them at a chain grocery store. They are a large and handsome squash that gives them another role besides being used for baking and cooking. Their other role is as sidekicks for the great orange pumpkins -- both used in decorating for harvest and Halloween scenes in yards and on porches in Kentucky.

They are heirlooms of the plant world and grow better in the south than the north. They are huge, 10 to 20 pounds or more, prolific and hardy -- withstanding onslaughts from the vine borer. They can be treated as a summer squash when they are young or a winter squash when they mature in the fall.


In the Appalachian area, Cushaw pie is  traditional with many families as its taste is similar to pumpkin pie.  A Virginia blogger, scrambled hen fruit, has a great food post that featured Cushaw pie along with its recipe on the following post -- http://scrambledhenfruit.blogspot.com/search/label/pie


The seeds for Cushaw's can be found online with seed companies that carry heirloom seeds like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. 

Perhaps for those living in the northern climates it might be fun  growing some of these squash to put a dash of of southern taste in your food preparations or to give your orange pumpkins some team mates for Halloween.

16 comments:

  1. I sent your URL to my friend who grew Cushaws for the first time this year....in fact, gardened for the first time, here, in years. She had a very successful Cushaw crop. Very timely and informing!

    Thanks much, girl!
    Elora

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  2. Hi Elora -- thanks for sending my URL to your friend. As I understand Cushaws can be bountiful in the garden. I hope she tries the Cushaw pie recipe that I included on the "scrambled hen fruit" blog. Hope your weather is as beautiful as ours is today. -- barbara

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  3. Every now and then you give my memory a little jog. I haven't heard the word "cushaw" for years. I don't remember if my mother grew them in her garden or bought them from neighbors who did but when I was quite young I think that's the only kind of squash we ate -- although my memory is a bit fuzzy. They're an attractive vegetable to look at. And, of course, I don't see them at all her in the Northeast

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  4. I will definitely try the recipe. All I've done so far is use a regular pumpkin pie recipe, substituting the squash for canned pumpkin.

    I planted five seeds, which I saved from a cushaw I bought last year. I believe I harvested more than a dozen mature cushaws. I've given more than half of them away. Spreading the wealth! Thanks for the post, and the link to the recipe.

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  5. June -- I would think there would be a good chance that your mother cooked with cushaw. It has a long history and that would tell me that it was used often in places where it could be grown -- and I would include southern Indiana in that area.

    I'm originally from Michigan so a cushaw was new to me when I moved here. Thanks for stopping by June -- barbara

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  6. Debbi -- good to have you visit my blog. I hope you have great success with the recipe. Amazing that you got more than a dozen of those huge squash from your saved five seeds! Pays to save seeds. -- barbara

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  7. Hmm. Interesting. I haven't heard of cushaw, but there is a variety my daughter grows called Bush Delicata and it is listed in the seed catalogue as a sweet potato squash. it does look quite like the ones you picture. Rheanna really likes it. I'll have to keep an eye out at the heirloom seed exchange in the spring for others.

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  8. barfootheart -- Are you perhaps thinking of Cornell's Bush Delicata Squash? The cushaw is shaped quite differently and is larger than Bush Delicata. Also its green stripes are not as orderly. Or is there another Delicata I am not familiar with? Neither had I heard of cushaw before I moved to the south. In KY it is a very popular squash. Reports are that the squash grows smaller in the north. Thanks for your comments -- barbara

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  9. I love Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and always have luck with their seeds. Cushaws were new to me when I moved back to central KY. I have not used them, yet, in cooking.

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  10. Cushaws are popular in my neck of the woods, along with candy roasters.

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  11. Vicki -- I give -- what are candy roasters? New name for me. barbara

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  12. Farmchick -- I have always been fascinated by the many heirloom squash found in various parts of the country. I have gone from having large gardens to quite small here in KY. But I still plant squash and let them run all over the place. Not sure what I will do about a garden next year? Yes, Bakers is a goood company -- always wanted to attend one of his festivals. Thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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  13. Hi Barbara:

    Last year a fellow farmer in our area gave me a Cushaw he grew, which was the first time I've seen one up close. My only regret is that we did not eat it. Instead, my wife used it as a decoration; however, we did keep the seeds. If they are as good as the Delicata, I can't wait to grow and try one next year.

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  14. Thomas, I believe that cushaws make great fall decorations. If you do not like the cushaw you grow just put them out for decoration. In KY cushaws are popular for both decoration and eating. -- thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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  15. I am in NE Tennessee and love the cushaw squash. Last season, I saved some seeds from a cushaw I purchased from a local grocery. A neighbor told that they would not produce fruit but foliage only. Is this true? Next year I will definately purchase the seeds. I planted the seeds mid May and have beautiful foliage but no b looms so far. Thank you for your informational blog.

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    1. Anonymous -- Gardening is a lab of experimentation. I cannot say how your cushaws will turn out. I think it is a bit early to have blooms but maybe not in your area. Find a seasoned gardener in the area or an old nursery establishment or call your local Master Gardeners program through your county. They can give you the low-down on your Cushaws. thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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